Monday, 31 August 2009

American Black Tern

The Bank Holiday started off for me on Friday when I had to take the car in for a service. The weather was very windy-strong westerlies and showery. I wandered around Letchworth, including Norton Common but did not see much of note thanks to the weather.
Saturday turned out to be a bit warmer and brighter, and the morning at Amwell with the regular crowd was quite enjoyable. We did not see a great deal-several Green and Common Sandpipers and up to six Hobby. I was hoping for something a bit rarer as Bill Last and Barry Reed were in Ireland at the Bridges of Ross sea watching so something to grip them off would have been nice. We did however spend a lot of time discussing the American Black tern that had turned up at Farmoor reservoir near Oxford, undoubtedly brought over by the winds. While not a species according to most authorities it is very rare in the UK and worth seeing.
The weather on Sunday was pretty dire, strong winds at times, very overcast and showers. Not the best of conditions on the central causeway at Farmoor. The marsh terns were a long way off but easily picked up and were seen flying and perched. The most obvious was the (rare) juvenile White Winged Black Tern being very pale. Almost as distinctive, the (very rare) American Black Tern could be picked up because it was a very dark bird and the dusky flanks showed well in flight. The (common) juvenile Black Tern by comparison was best described as the one in between.
We were able to get a bit closer where I was able to get a few decent images with the 500mm lens and a 2x converter. These images are probably the first to show all three terns in flight together.
On the way back to the car I was able to get very good images of a very confiding Dunlin and distant shots of one of many Yellow Wagtails around the buildings.
The erst of the day was a bit of a let down. We were heading to Tring for an Osprey which flew off before we got there so headed home via the Pegsdon Hills. A stroll around Telegraph and Deacon Hill failed to produce any migrants, apart from a few Meadow and Tree Pipits. No doubt the strong winds were to blame.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Willow Emeralds

After a couple of weeks since their discovery, we decided to visit Suffolk yesterday to see some of the newly colonised Willow Emeralds at Staverton Lake. Several other sites were noted down as back ups but this proved unnecessary.
We arrived around 0930, and although sunny there was a strong breeze. However it was not long before several were found around the pump house pool, including a few tenerals. A small group spent quite a bit of time with these individuals before checking out other stretches of water. Along one of the paths, we gradually checked some of the most likely spots and found several more, before bumping into another group watching a large number, including a few males. Photography was difficult as most of the individuals remained perched in the trees, often high up where the wind was causing problems, and the low light conditions in the shade did not help. I reckon we saw a minimum of 30 individuals.
I had obtained a book on Grasshoppers at the bird fair, along with a pocket net, and both proved useful when I ` that there were many Roesel's Bush Crickets singing. Tracking them down on the grass and brambles was very hard until I saw one sitting on my camera bag. This was quickly netted and posed very well for us.
There were many more insects-Colin saw a green bush cricket of some kind, and there were many Brown and Migrant Hawkers, Darters and Large and Small red Eyed Damselflies.
When we left, we decided to visit Boyton Marsh which was only a few miles away where a juvenile Montague's harrier had been present for a while. We obtained very distant views of it hunting over the sea wall looking towards Orford Ness, but a long walk to it's location proved fruitless as it was not seen again.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Rutland Bird Fair

Went to the bird fair today-I go every couple of years.
Big mistake-I really like the new Leica scopes with the 25-50X zoom, and of course there is all the nice Nikon camera gear to play with too. Looks like I need a spare £15000 or so.
Back in the real world, I picked up a few nice books that I have been after, but the main reason is to see people that I don't see all that often, see old friends and every now and again do a spot of birding. Lee Evans was looking dapper as usual in pin striped jacket and shades, plugging his new rare bird site guide, and the wild man of Exmoor, Johnny Kingdom in full regalia gave what seemed to be a very popular talk, which over ran somewhat. All the usual birding/wildlife celebs were around though I failed to tick some of them off.
Thanks to the TV programs, the Ospreys were very popular, with the viewing hides overflowing. Bit pointless really, as one of the birds could be seen (and heard) on the nest post from the car park. The other hides overlooking the lagoons were very peaceful by comparison. I failed to find the reported Wood Sandpiper, though there were a lot of Green Sandpipers and Greenshank present. Egyptian Geese seemed to be very abundant, with few Shelduck by comparison. Still a few Terns, and Sand Martins, and there may have been a few good ducks around but I did not fancy sorting through thousands of eclipse Tufties, Gadwall etc.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009


Spent a few hours at Amwell this morning, Seemed to be very quiet-no Common Terns, duck numbers down, and seemingly few raptors out enjoying the hot air.
We did have a few waders though, four Common Sandpiper, four Green Sandpiper and a Greenshank that stayed until 1030 when it flew off west. There have been a couple of Snipe recently-none seen today, and there were very few small birds either, apart from a lone Willow Warbler practicing it's song.
Overhead, a few Swallows and Sand Martins were moving south, and we had a fly over Yellow Wagtail too. Skywatching paid off, and eventually a couple of Sparrowhawk did appear, along with a single Hobby and three distant Buzzard.
As I was leaving, Jim picked up one of the local Spotted Flycatchers in the orchard, so as it turned out, not a bad couple of hours despite the heat.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Rye Meads

Spent a few hours this morning at the RSPB reserve of Rye Meads.
There were two Garganey present-they had been here for a week or so, along with several Green Sandpiper. Several broods of Little Grebe in front of the Draper hide, including four very young ones hitching a lift from a parent.
Watched the Kingfisher feeding young, and also a Heron preening..
Lots of Migrant Hawkers around too, as well as Brown Hawker.

Monday, 17 August 2009

Five Skippers

Yesterday we decided to repeat our trip to Ballard Down near Swanage, hopefully with much better weather than the last visit. Things did not look promising on the way down, but after we arrived, the Sun came out and it really warmed up.
The first thing we noticed were the Adonis Blues-they were everywhere and seemed to be the most abundant species,, though there were large numbers of Common Blues and Brown Argus around. As usual, plenty of Painted Lady, Gatekeeper, Meadow Brown, Small Heath, whites and Tortoiseshells could be seen, and there were even a couple of Clouded yellows too. There were even a few Small Blues though hard to see. One thing was missing-Skippers, in particular Lulworth. Try as we might none could be seen.
After about an hour we decided to carry on across the down and then cross the road to the other hills. The local Buzzards were very vocal and rather distracting until Colin suddenly found a Skipper. A bit surprisingly it was a second brood Dingy, that was it as far as butterflies went for some time. Three Raven, a few Linnets and Chiffchaff were all we had until a flyby Wall Brown frustrated me. I also got good views of a femal Bullfinch feeding two young.
After a coffee we returned to Ballard Down and searched the southern area. Luckily I got good views of Wall Brown and then another Skipper-Dingy again. A few minutes later I noticed a dull Skipper on the marjoram but it was disturbed by an Adonis. Another was then picked up and we finally got images of a Lulworth Skipper. A search of the main area of Marjoram failed to find any more (despite what seemed to be ideal condituions) and we started to leave when I noticed a Grayling settle in front of us for a moment. Unfortunately it did not stay for long and having spent three hours here we decided to leave.
Noar Hill near Selbourne is a famous butterfly site and I hoped to see Brown Hairstreak here. We found plenty of Whites and Brimstone, a family of Spotted Flycatcher and a bonus Willow Tit. I bumped into one of the regulars who told me that he had only seen five this year-luckily one was just round the corner in an Ash tree. Half an hour went by and with no sighting we gave up. I did see a small butterfly fly off, maybe this was it. Another bonus was a rather battered Silver Washed Fritillary which brought the butterfly day list up to twenty eight.
We ended up at Box Hill near Dorking, overlooking the (for England) vast vineyards of Denbies. Despite being very busy, rather late in the day and with what seemed to be rather poor habitat, I managed to find a single Silver Spotted Skipper, but it was disturbed by Burnet Moths and I never relocated it. This is supposed to be one of the best sites, with a very large colony of Silver Spotted Skippers, and despite searching the southern slopes no more were found. There were several clumps of Autumn Gentian and Autumn Ladies Tresses, so it was not a total loss.

Saturday, 8 August 2009


Having spent the last week with a flu like bug, I decided to stretch my legs a bit this afternoon and went up to Dead Man's Hill at Sandon near Baldock. While there I met a few other birders, including Mick Illet and Ray Hooper.
Over the course of nearly three hours we were entertained by four Red Kites, up to three juvenile Marsh Harriers, numerous Buzzards, one Hen harrier, several Kestrel and Hobby, and one Sparrowhawk. Unfortunately, the male Montague's Harrier did not show for us, although it was apparently seen while we were there, and the Peregrine was not seen either.
There were a lot of Swallows flying around, as well as several finch/bunting flocks, most of which seemed to consist of Linnet and Yellowhammer. There were also a number of Red Legged Partridge and Pheasant, but no Quail.

Monday, 3 August 2009

Weekend Update

Saturday morning was spent at Amwell. Not much happening-the only out of the ordinary bird was the eclipse drake Red Crested Pochard which flew around for a bit after being disturbed by herons. Several Little Egrets present, but no waders apart from a few Lapwing, and no migrants. The usual selection of late summer butterflies and dragonflies present, with Painted Ladies starting to become abundant.
Sunday had been planned to be a visit to the lakes for some of the northern butterflies, but due to the weather and the fact I was not feeling great, Colin and I had an easy day in East Anglia. We called in at Graffham to see the Black Terns before heading to Roydon Common. Despite the assertion that Black Darters are the commonest species we only managed to see a couple, and could not photograph any. Common Darters were everywhere, and we managed to find a few Ruddies too. Small Coppers and Common Blues were also everywhere, but there were not as many Painted Ladies as I was expecting.
There were a few wader reports from Titchwell, but we decided to call in at Kelling to see the Great Spotted Cuckoo which has been present for a while, but had only been refound on Saturday. After quite a long wait, with the Ladybird swarms and a toad for diversion, the cuckoo eventually showed quite well, but rather distant, even for the 500mm lens and converters.